Archive for the Art Movies Category

MANIAC (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Based on Classic Films, Cult Movies, Disturbing Cinema, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, Joe Spinell Films, Kinky Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Remakes, Serial Killer flicks, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by knifefighter

MANIAC (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

 Maniac

Yet another in a long list of  movies that do not need to remakes, William Lustig’s original MANIAC (1980) featured the amazing Joe Spinell (who also provided the story and co-wrote the screenplay) as Frank Zito, a violent psychotic who kills women and then scalps them, so he can attach their hair to mannequins that surround his bed like lovers. Visceral stuff, made all the more effective by the teaming of Lustig, Spinell, and effects maestro Tom Savini at the peak of his powers. This was one movie that lived up to its title, and yet there were tender moments as well, focusing mostly on the friendship (and blossoming romance?) between Spinell’s Zito and Caroline Munro’s photographer, Anna D’Antoni. It didn’t hurt that Munro was one of the most beautiful women to grace celluloid at the time. But Spinell somehow, through this relationship, made you sympathize with a man who is otherwise a deranged animal. You somehow cared about Zito and wanted to see him redeemed. Of course, in these kinds of movies, redemption eventually gives up and steps aside, so that punishment can take control of matters.

In the new version of MANIAC (2012), Franck Khalfoun gives us a strange recreation of the original film, with just enough quirks and differences to make it enjoyable on its own terms. Even if it comes nowhere near the gut punch of the original. This time, the script is co-written by Alexandre Aja, the director who has given us such recent horrors as the HILLS HAVE EYES remake (2006), MIRRORS (2008) and who is currently adaptating Joe Hill’s HORNS for the big screen. As for Khalfoun, he previously directed the murder in an underground parking garage flick, P2 (2007) and has acted in Aja films like HIGH TENSION (2003) and PIRANHA (2010).

FA_couv_000177

The new MANIAC stars Elijah Wood, oddly enough, perhaps the exact physical opposite of Joe Spinell. Where Spinell was genuinely creepy and yet always had a strange vulnerability to him, Wood seems slight and wimpy, but has a kind of strangeness to him that could easily be perceived as a capacity for violence. This aspect of Wood has been exploited previously in SIN CITY (2005), where he played an intense and merciless hit man with a penchant for eating human flesh. So this is hardly the first time someone saw Elijah Wood and thought “Hey, he might actually be an effective psycho.”

In MANIAC, however, Wood’s appearance and attributes are given only a small chance to shine, since the movie also adopts the rather odd gimmick of giving us the story from the killer’s point of view. What this means is that, throughout most of the film, we see everything through Frank Zito’s eyes. So whether or not Wood looks the part, we only see him occasionally, when he happens to look at himself in a mirror, for example.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

This POV seems very artificial, making us very aware that this is not a gritty tour of the gutter like the original film, but something different. The new MANIAC strives toward art, towards being something more than just another killer on the loose flick. And yet, considering the subject matter, this arty direction doesn’t always work. We’re not watching a MANIAC film for artistic merit. We want to see a psychotic on the verge of complete madness, and the POV actually distances us from the meat of the film, even as it thinks that it is bringing us closer to the madman, by showing the film from his eyes.

The POV works some of the time. It’s not a bad thing, per se. There are some scenes that use this to nice effect. But in a movie like this, it doesn’t really elevate the story in any way. It’s just a fancy trick that tells us “No, you don’t have to really see Frank get his hands dirty.”

I actually like Elijah Wood. I’m not really a fan of projects like the LORD OF THE RINGS movies (or the HOBBIT films), but he’s been in plenty of other things that have impressed me. I think I first noticed him in Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM (1997), and he has a kind of intensity that gives him a lot of range. I even enjoy him in the odd FX TV series WILFRED, where he plays a man whose best friend is a man in a dog suit (the rest of the world sees it as an actual dog). But the point is, Wood is kind of fearless and open to playing a wide variety of roles, however offbeat, and for what he does in MANIAC, I think he does a decent job. In a way, though, I would have preferred to see the whole “from the maniac’s eyes” viewpoint ditched, so that we could have really enjoyed Wood’s performance to the fullest.

In the new movie, Anna is played by Nora Amezeder as a French photographer who is drawn to Frank via his strange little shop where he carries on his family’s business of restoring antique mannequins. She uses mannequins in her photographs for artistic effect, and his equally artistic display of actual mannequins might just be the perfect complement to her photos in her upcoming gallery show. Can she borrow some of his work? He catches her taking pictures of his shop’s display window and invites her inside. The fact that she sees beauty in the same objects he does creates an immediate connection. And the groundwork is there for the one normal relationship in Frank Zito’s life.  Sadly, whatever normality there is between them won’t last for long. There’s no way it could.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell's performance in the original film.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell’s performance in the original film.

Wood’s Frank Zito has mother issues, after all, that go as deep as Norman Bates’s. We see flashbacks to Frank as a child, forced to watch as his mother has sex with all comers, whether its two sailors at once in her bedroom as he peers out from between the slats of a closet door, to a late night assignation in a parking garage, Frank wants his mother as much as he is repelled by her, and it is only a matter of time before relationships he has with other women dovetail into his feelings for his mother—even the one he has with poor Anna.

Feeling a possessive jealousy for whatever woman he comes across that he finds attractive, that same need to have them always turns into a stronger need to punish them. And therefore, he can’t really have any enjoyment with them while they are alive. He can only truly possess them (and come close to “loving” them) when they have been recreated, with their bloody scalps stapled onto the heads of his mannequins. In the darkness of his apartment, he convinces himself that the mannequins are the real women, and that they are now in an environment he can control. It is only then that he can show them that he cares.

So he drives around the city late at night, picking victims at random based on how they elicit lust in him, and making quick work of them. He tries to break the cycle, even joining an online dating service and meeting Lucie (Megan Duffy), a tattooed beauty who actually seems to act motherly towards him (uh oh!) when he complains of a migraine at the restaurant they agree to meet at, and who takes him back to her place afterwards for some almost-successful seduction. You really think Frank might finally loosen up and enjoy himself, but in the end, we know that’s impossible.

There are some interesting set pieces, including Frank hunting down Anna’s agent, Rita (Jan Broberg), breaking into her glorious Manhattan apartment to kill her in her bath tub. This sequence is done quite well

I liked this new version of MANIAC. It’s a good film, despite its flaws. It’s just easier to judge it as a stand-alone film about a psycho played by Elijah Wood. To compare it to Lustig’s original is to its detriment. There is no way this movie could deliver the goods like the original movie did.

I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives the 2012 version of  MANIAC ~three  knives.

 

(Despite being made in 2012, the new version of MANIAC is only now getting limited release in theaters in some cities. It is available on cable OnDemand in some markets as well.)

maniac_version3-2012-movie-poster

Advertisements

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, British Horror, Compelling Cinema, Enigmatic Films, Giallo, Independent Cinema, LL Soares Reviews, Psychological Horror, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on July 9, 2013 by knifefighter

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

berbsoundstudioart1

The sense of atmosphere in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is so thick, you could chop it with a machete, and that’s a big part of what makes it so fascinating. More a character study (and a study of a specific time and place in film history) than an outright horror movie, Peter Strickland’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO nonetheless has a pervading, unsettling mood throughout.

Toby Jones (probably best known for playing Truman Capote in 2006’s INFAMOUS) plays Gilderoy, a mild-mannered Englishman who seems to have mostly done sound for children’s shows and nature programs back home, is somehow plucked from his small existence and inserted into an Italian horror movie studio. The vibe is completely 1970s, at the high of the giallo craze. Gilderoy is a fish out of water, and there’s more than a little Kafka in his situation. Many of his co-workers do not speak English. Those who do, specifically the film’s producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) and the mysterious director, Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino), are tall, intimidating men whose comments to Gilderoy can sometimes seem more like threats.

Gilderoy is not really sure why he was chosen for this project, especially based on his previous work, but, as Francesco tells him at one point, there are people dying to do his job for free, so he should be happy to do it. The implication being that he should be willing to do it for no money, which he isn’t. But trying to get reimbursed for his flight to Italy alone is an ongoing dilemma, as he keeps getting shuttled from Francesco, to his secretary Elena (Tonia Sotriopoulou), to the Accounting Department. It’s quite clear that the studio isn’t very eager to pay for anything unless it really has to. At one point, the guy in accounting tells Gilderoy that there was no record of a flight leaving England the time he said he flew, and that they cannot pay him back. By then, Gilderoy is so frustrated (since he clearly was on this supposedly non-existent flight!) that he begins to lose his cool, and the worm finally begins to turn.

For hardcore film fans, BERBERIAN is a fascinating look at a side of cinema we rarely see. Sure, we’ve seen the making of a film from the actors’ point of view, or the director’s, but this movie finally gives us entrée into the studio where the sound engineers and foley artists do their thing. We get to see which vegetables and fruits, when smashed or otherwise destroyed, make for the best sound effects, and how a scream can be amplified and manipulated to set your hair on end.

I thought the technical aspects in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO were fascinating. But I didn’t find much of a plot here. Not that this is particularly detrimental in BERBERIAN’s case. As his ordeal goes on, Gilderoy feels more and more cut off from the outside world, and the movie does a good job of making us feel as claustrophobic as he does. The only people he sees every day are Francesco and the other sound guys. Occasionally Santini stops by to strut around and tell Gilderoy how wonderful he is for the project (meanwhile laughing behind his back in Italian with Francesco). There are also actors and actresses who come and go, spending time in sound booths to either dub dialogue or make vocal sound effects. Or scream.

bss

It is one of the screaming actresses, Veronica (Susanna Cappellaro)  who befriends Gilderoy. She’s the only one who really seems interested in him as a person, and who confides in him that Santini has been sexually harassing her (as he seems to be doing with all his actresses, some of whom are more responsive to his advances), when he’s not treating her and her co-stars like garbage when they don’t scream just right for his satisfaction. She decides to get revenge on Santini and the production in a way that is very effective (if bloodless).

There are scenes of menace. One particular scene involves Gilderoy waking up to someone thrashing his door and wildly shaking the knob. When he grabs a knife to investigate, he wanders out into the hall, eventually finding himself in a screening room, where the projector starts running and plays footage on the wall behind him of everything that had just happened (inside his room!).

The film the crew is making, concerning 16th century witches who rise to fulfill a curse, and who are in the tunnels beneath an equestrian school—the Italian title translates as “The Equestrian Vortex—bares more than a passing resemblance to Dario Argento’s classic SUSPIRIA (1977), which involved witches and a girls’ dancing school. Of course, we do not see much footage from the film. Early on, we see the opening credits. But the rest of the time, we only know the story based on the recitation of lines by the actors in the sound booths.

Gilderoy is clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter of the film. Whether he is ripping radishes from their stems to replicate the sound of hair being torn from a witch’s head, or listening to women scream over and over (as they are forced to do retakes), he clearly is not thrilled with what he’s doing, even if he realizes it is a unique opportunity for someone who has only done sound for films for the telly back in England (and, despite his age, who still lives with him mum).

His only contact with his former life is in the form of letters from his mother, which start out mundane enough, and which get stranger as time goes on. When an actress recites the contents of one letter, line for line, in front of him, you know something sinister is afoot.

As he is forced to redo sound for scenes over and over, we start to wonder how long this job is going to last, and then wonder if he will ever be allowed to leave. We never see him go outside. He is either in the studio (which is most of the time), or in his room. If there is horror here, it’s the horror of being trapped in an unpleasant place without knowing if you’ll ever escape. Because the longer Gilderoy stays there, the more it seems he won’t be permitted to leave.

The cast is quite good, led by Jones, who is one of those gifted actors who, because of how he looks and sounds, will never be a traditional leading man, but who you want to see more of. Aside from playing Capote in INFAMOUS, Jones’s Hollywood career has amounted mostly to small roles as a character actor (like playing one of the commentators in THE HUNGER GAMES, 2012),  so it’s nice to see him take center stage again in this smaller, British production.

The emphasis on technical details and atmosphere and subtle menace makes this a little different from the usual horror-related film. As I said early on, it’s much more interested in giving us a glimpse into one man’s life than scaring us, but the sense of dread is strong here, and seems quite real.

berberian_sound_studio__span

Director Strickland has created a unique film that reaches in the direction of art. While it won’t appeal to everyone (it does move at a slower pace than most summer blockbusters), the audience that will appreciate it will obviously have a good time with it. I know I did.

I give BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

(Note: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO has been having a very brief run in arthouse theaters in some cities. It is also currently available on some cable OnDemand services)

LL Soares gives  BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO ~three and a half knives.

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Gore!, Highly Stylized Films, Independent Cinema, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Vampire Movies, Vampires, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2013 by knifefighter

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

kiss-of-the-damned-trailer-1

For fans of vampire movies, these have been trying times. The TWILIGHT movies have pretty much defanged undead bloodsuckers for the time being, and aside from a few indie flicks, there hasn’t been a lot of hope that vampires will regain their former glory.

The new independent film KISS THE DAMNED tries to correct this, but unfortunately it’s just not strong enough to do the heavy lifting required to save the genre. That said, it’s a pleasant enough film regardless.

Josephine de La Baume stars as Djuna (pronounced Juna—“The D is silent,” as Jamie Foxx would say), a modern-day lady of mystery who sleeps during the day and comes out at night. She seems a little too eager to avoid contact with other people, but this intrigues screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) when they first see each other in a video store. She immediately feels uncomfortable when he returns her gaze, and flees the store, but he follows her outside. After some heated make-out sessions get cut short (Djuna is determined not to let things go too far), Paolo refuses to just walk away and demands to know why she won’t let their relationship go any further. At this point, she relents, and draws him into her world. Unfortunately, this involves him getting a couple of fangs in his throat, and being “turned” into something not quite human.

But Paolo is cool with losing his humanity, and seems to be the perfect mate for Djuna, who has been lonely for decades and hasn’t had someone to share her “life” with for way too long. Their love affair seems to be going in a good direction, until Djuna’s sister Mimi (a very sexy Roxane Mesquida) shows up.

Where Djuna is mature and afraid to get too close to anyone, Mimi is more reckless and violent. Djuna has sworn off hunting humans to get the blood she needs and has turned to animals, something she tries to instill in Paolo as well, but Mimi just doesn’t consider it dinner unless it’s running on two legs.

Mimi has come to stay with her sister for a week, while her “new place” in Phoenix (some kind of vampire version of rehab) is being readied for  her. The house the three of them “live” in is owned by another vampire, the successful actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis, another standout here) who seems determined to give the wild child Mimi a second chance. Djuna, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with her sister and finds the new arrangement completely unsatisfactory, especially since she’s trying to start a new relationship with newbie vampire Paolo and all.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead, after some strenuous sex, in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Of course, Mimi shows that Xenia’s trust in her was misguided, and Djuna was right all along, but not before she turns all of their lives upside down. One scene, where Mimi even tricks the totally-in-control Xenia into breaking one of her rules, is especially riveting.

KISS OF THE DAMNED is clearly a homage to the kind of European vampire film that was prevalent in the 70s and 80s, by filmmakers like the French master Jean Rollin (who gave us such classics as 1971’s REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and FASCINATION, 1979), Spanish director Jess Franco (who gave us the classic VAMPYROS LESBOS, 1971) and Harry Kumel (Belgian director of the unforgettable DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, 1971). Most, if not all, of these kinds of movies focused on female vampires with European accents. From the stylized cinematography by Tobias Datum to the original score by Steven Hufsteter, KISS OF THE DAMNED clearly wears its influences on its sleeve and is intent on “bringing sexy back” to the vampire genre.

Director Xan Cassavetes (full name Alexandra Cassavetes, daughter of indie legend John Cassavetes) does a good job here, capturing the mood and the inherent claustrophobia of the nighttime blood-drinking set. Xan previously directed the documentary Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, about one of the first pay cable stations to focus exclusively on art films in California and its many devoted followers, and acted in such films as ALPHA DOG (2006) and, when she was younger, some of her father’s films like A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) and MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971).

The cast emphasizes the European flavor of the proceedings. French actress Josephine de La Baume was previously in movies like ONE DAY (2011) and JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (also 2011). Roxane Mesquida, also from France, was previously in such diverse films as the Catherine Breillat films FAT GIRL (2001) and SEX IS A COMEDY (2002), as well as Greg Araki’s KABOOM (2010) and Quentin Dupieux’s RUBBER (also 2010).

American actor Milo Ventimiglia will probably be most familiar here to American audiences, mainly for playing Peter Petrelli in the TV series HEROES (2006 -2010). He’s also been in some interesting independent flicks since, like the horror film PATHOLOGY (2008), which I liked a lot. With a dark beard and smoldering eyes, Ventimiglia is a strong presence here, and holds his own quite well with the attractive women he plays opposite. There’s also a small turn by actor Michael Rappaport (COP LAND, 1997, and DEEP BLUE SEA, 1999) as Paolo’s clueless agent, Ben, who shows up unannounced at one point, wanting to see how Paolo’s latest screenplay is coming.

I’m a fan of the kinds of movies Xan Cassavetes is clearly trying to recapture here, and I think she does a pretty good job evoking the same sense of time and place, but I never had the feeling that KISS OF THE DAMNED was adding anything new to the genre. It all seemed like things we’ve seen before, and while it’s a stylish throwback to the days when vampire films were both sexy and chilling, it doesn’t have enough of an original voice to stand out.

Still, I’d rather see something as visually appetizing as KISS OF THE DAMNED than a hundred TWILIGHTs, so I don’t want to be too negative. I just wish it had been more ambitious and tried to do something different with this kind of storyline. As KISS OF THE DAMNED ended, I found myself wanting more of these characters, and at the same time realizing that they really didn’t have all that much to say.

I give KISS OF THE DAMNED, three knives. Not perfect, but it will still wash the foul taste of TWILIGHT out of your mouth.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Kiss-of-the-Damned-Retro

LL Soares gives KISS OF THE DAMNED ~three knives.

SIGHTSEERS (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bad Behavior, Dark Comedies, Independent Cinema, Serial Killers, Unusual Films, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by knifefighter

SIGHTSEERS (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Sightseers Poster NZ.inddBen Wheatley’s 2011 movie KILL LIST was my favorite film in 2012 (of course it took a year for it to finally get a theatrical release—and a very limited one at that—in America). So when I saw that his next movie, SIGHTSEERS (2012), was coming, I had to check it out. While I don’t think it’s in the same league as KILL LIST, I enjoyed it a lot, and was happy to see it get a real theatrical release, even if it will be hard to find for people who don’t have access to art house theaters.

SIGHTSEERS is Wheatley is a slightly more jovial mood. While it’s a comedy, it’s a very dark one. It’s the story of Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram). They’ve been dating for about three months when they decide to pack up the RV and go on a sightseeing tour of the countryside for a week.

Tina lives with her mum, Carol (Eileen Davies), an unpleasant old woman who still blames Tina for the unfortunate death of their dog, Poppy (when the movie opens, Carol is looking at pictures of Poppy and screaming in a shrill grief-stricken voice). Carol pretends to be much more frail than she is, to keep Tina close, and since Tina is Carol’s caretaker, it’s amazing that she’s allowed to go on this holiday at all, considering how guilty old Carol makes her daughter feel about just about everything. But once Tina gets out on the open road with Chris, things go smashingly…

Well, not really.

The trouble begins when Chris backs up and purposely hits a litterbug who earlier shared a tour bus with them. This kind of a casual murder shocks Tina at first (Chris claims it was all an accident and that he was horrified by it all, when they speak to the police), but she eventually warms to his way of dealing with annoying people. As they hit the various points on their itinerary, they also leave a trail of bodies in their wake (a man who says he will report them for not cleaning up after their dog; someone who is rude to them; a girl who comes on to Chris when Tina is in the ladies’ room, etc.), and we slowly realize that Chris may have been a serial killer all along, and Tina is more than happy to become his apprentice. After all, the people they kill deserve it, don’t they?

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS.

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS.

Along the way, they acquire a new dog that looks an awful lot like the deceased Poppy (the new one is called Banjo) and a nice new camera. And Tina realizes that she may have just found her soul mate after all.

SIGHTSEERS has a pretty simple premise and carries out its carnage in a light-hearted way. Whether you find Tina and Chris amusing or annoying may vary, but I found myself really liking the duo, even if I often disagreed with their actions. At first, it seems like they’re doing what they do for clear-cut (if extreme) moral reasons (well, Tina might be a little bit dumber than Chris, so it takes a little bit for her to catch on), but as their reasons for killing become more and more petty, it’s more difficult to root for them. But they’re so likable, you just might find yourself cheering them on, despite yourself.

The script is by lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with Amy Jump (she also co-wrote KILL LIST with Wheatley). It’s a pleasant enough way to kill 90 minutes, and Lowe and Oram are quite good in their roles here.

While I do not consider it to be a major work like the still amazing KILL LIST, I do think that SIGHTSEERS makes Wheatley a director still worth watching, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SIGHTSEERS ~three knives.

SIGHTSEERS2-ORANGE.jpg

CRITERION AFTER DARK: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961)

Posted in 2013, 60s Movies, Art Movies, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, Enigmatic Films, Family Secrets, Foreign Films, Garrett Cook Articles, Lovecraftian Horror, Madness with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CRITERION AFTER DARK
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY: ELDER GODS WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM
By Garrett Cook

throughaglassdarkly

It’s been forever since I’ve written one of these columns. People and cities and ideas and lives change and mine did in several big ways in the last year. I missed writing for Cinema Knife Fight, and now I’m gonna do it again. I thought maybe I would start by finding a weird, shocking, filthy, perverse Criterion film. Something that would blow your mind and take you to the very edge of perception. And I did. Did I ever.

Cronenberg? Bunuel? Malle? Nope. Asian horror? Nope. Some kind of Swedish erotic art film? A little warmer. Imagine if Tennessee Williams and H.P. Lovecraft collaborated on a family drama set on an isolated island, a place tinged with madness, with the stench of malevolent cosmology hanging in the air. And there’s sin and sexual dysfunction and a sinister play with a dark truth at its core. So let’s add a little Robert “The King in Yellow” Chambers to the mix. Moody black and white cosmic horror. Yeah, that’s the stuff. So, who pray tell is the twisted mind behind this?

The man whose work inspired Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and who had a knight in plague-stricken medieval Europe confront the grim reaper himself. A true master of the horror genre. Who knows terror like…Ingmar Bergman? That can’t be right. But it is. Bergman is the genius behind THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), which was later remade (reimagined?) as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and pitted a knight in a chess game against death in THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957). His film THE MAGICIAN (1958) had all of the elements of one of Val Lewton’s classics of psychological horror: from a man terrorized by doubts in his psyche to a murder that may or may not have been in the province of the supernatural. THE MAGICIAN is, as well as being a period piece and an excellent story about the power of art, a masterpiece of quiet horror.

And so is THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961).

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is one of those movies that defines in people’s mind what an art film is, or what a drama is. It looks on the surface to just be a story about a disintegrating family. The setup is not particularly horrific: a novelist takes his son, his daughter and her husband on vacation. His daughter is schizophrenic. She finds out his novel is about her and gets upset. Why is this of interest to a column on horror culture and filth in the Criterion Collection?

Because as I said, there are traces of cosmic horror and weird fiction here that are hard to ignore, but enjoyable to savor, as they seem to be in the wrong place. Near the beginning of the film, the son puts on a play starring the daughter, involving a knight’s strange relationship with a ghost. It’s cool that it calls back to the questing knight facing death in THE SEVENTH SEAL, but fans of vintage weird fiction might see another connection, another great “Death and the Maiden” play, embedded in a narrative: Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow centers around an ominous play where the heroine’s sad song freezes the heart of the viewer. This play hints at love and death interweaving on a cosmic level, and at there being something deeply wrong in this family and on this island. The King in Yellow terrorizes you with evil in the walls of a metanarrative, and THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY does the same. Something is wrong with this play. Something is wrong with reality. Something is loose in the theater.

Karin comes to a realization in Bergman's THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY.

Karin (Harriet Andersson) comes to a realization in Ingmar Bergman’s THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY.

Although her father feels Karin is incurable, Karin’s husband is trying to remain optimistic. He does not believe her condition will have to eat away her life. And it doesn’t seem to, until Karin finds her father’s manuscript. In her father’s manuscript, the heroine is an incurable schizophrenic, in her father’s manuscript, Karin his hopeless. When Karin reads this, she is naturally upset, but it seems to go beyond that and once again into the realm of weird fiction and magic. The fictional Karin is sick, so the real Karin becomes sick. The fictional Karin is too crazy to heal, so the real one must be as well. It works like a voodoo doll and warps the world like the sinister play in Chambers’ story. It has even, in some ways, turned into a grimoire like the Necronomicon from Lovecraft’s books.

Karin begins describing her hallucinations about people behind the walls watching her, judging her. She seems to have a strange sixth sense that she’s not just the protagonist of a novel, but that of a movie as well. She seems to see the framework and that there’s no difference between life and art and reality and fantasy. She faces the realization of the protagonist of Lovecraft’s story Pickman’s Model, who discovers that the hideous paintings of his friend Pickman were modeled after a photograph from life. So the movie returns to the Pickman’s Model/King in Yellow delusion, the stuff that Lucio Fulci’s A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990) and John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994) deal with, along with Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF (made into a film by George Romero in 1993). The reality-warping power of madness shines in Karin’s dialogue, because Bergman has isolated the movie from the rest of reality. On this little island, all we have are people’s opinions on Karin’s madness, and Karin’s madness itself. Like Shakespeare’s power to conjure images, Karin’s makes things happen in your head, turning words into imagery, and therefore turning her words into reality.

Karin succumbs not just to insanity, but to her worst urges, performing an act of incest. Her behavior has gone from simply crazy to truly aberrant, committing on of the worst sins imaginable. This is a pretty sordid world Bergman has created, one without hope or moral high ground or a chance to gain rectitude, a world ruled over by a force that is less than benevolent. Without a single tentacle, we have the feelings Lovecraft sought to convey of smallness, depravity, insanity and isolation. And the feeling that Karin’s visions are right. There are people outside the screen watching and judging her and waiting for her to fall apart on both sides of these realities. And she is under the power of a man behind a camera who is frankly not going to be very nice to her.

As Karin finally cracks, she does so in fine Lovecraftian form, terrified by confronting the image of God. Creatures like Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu appear before the eyes of Lovecraft’s heroes to shatter their minds or prove that the minds of the hero have been shattered.

“God is a spider,” Karin says.

And while Bergman does not show the spider, we have now gotten the idea in our imagination that Karin has seen some dark god. Does it matter that she is crazy? Has this god driven her crazy? We can’t say definitively that Lovecraft’s protagonists have seen the Elder Gods, and we can’t say with any certainty that Karin doesn’t know something in this Swedish art-house gothic that shows no monster at all, THROUGH THE GLASS DARKLY has as much in common with Val Lewton’s deep psychological thrillers for RKO in the 40s, in fact sharing a lot of themes with CAT PEOPLE (1942), THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943),. and other films of their ilk. And all leave you with the same horrendous impression that something is out there and that mad and malformed as the human mind can get, there is a grain of truth to all of the hallucinations and all of the cosmic horror.

The discriminating viewer is not just one who finds meaning in the depraved and the weird and the horrific, but also one who finds the depraved, the weird and the horrific in the things that academics and squares and stuffed shirts say are meaningful and THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY has that stuff in spades. So, if you like Lovecraft, Hitchcock or Lewton—or just an uncomfortable chill and a lump in your throat—Ingmar Bergman might be the scare you need.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bizarro Movies, Enigmatic Films, Experimental Films, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Mind Experiments!, Something Different, Weird Movies with tags , , , , on April 16, 2013 by knifefighter

UPSTREAM COLOR
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

upstream_color_xlgBack in 2004, director Shane Carruth made his debut feature, PRIMER. It was a little indie film about four guys trying to start their own computer company in a garage, and mysterious storage lockers, and time travel. The movie is told in such a way that you only figure it out a little at a time, but it was a terrific first film, and it made Carruth a director to look for. Unfortunately, it took him until 2013 to release his second film, UPSTREAM COLOR, and it is in very limited release in just a few cities. I hope it’s not as long a wait for his next one.

For some reason, I just like the title itself. UPSTREAM COLOR. Just a really cool name for a movie. So what is it actually about? Well, that’s a little tougher to explain. But I’ll try.

Carruth has a talent for enigmatic films that you need to really think about. In this vein, he’s a lot like David Lynch or David Cronenberg, although Carruth’s films are nothing like theirs. How much you’ll enjoy UPSTREAM COLOR depends on how strongly you feel you have to have all the answers, and how open you are to new experiences.

UPSTREAM COLOR begins with some kids drinking some weird concoction made from little grubs harvested from plants by a mysterious guy. Is he some kind of mad scientist, or something else entirely? When the kids drink the liquid, they are able to read each other’s minds – or it looks that way. When one kid tries to hit another, the other one is able to know exactly how to deflect the blow. Two other kids close their eyes and do the exact same hand movements in synch. What exactly are these grubs?

tumblr_mii1iuUhjR1qzdglao1_500

The guy then kidnaps a woman at a bar named Kris (Amy Seimetz, who is actually quite striking in some scenes), using a Taser. He makes her ingest one of the grub/worms and then brings her back to a house where he proceeds to brainwash her. He convinces her that ice water is most wonderful reward she can get, simply by telling her it is so. He tells her she cannot look into his face, because it is made of the same material that makes up the sun, and it is too bright to look at. He makes her copy out long passages from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”  and fold the papers into links to a giant paper chain. He also gets her to take out a loan on her house and withdraw all of her money from the bank and give it to him.

At one point, when she’s in bed, she sees worms running under her skin, and tries to remove them with a kitchen knife.

We are then introduced to another odd gentleman, called simply The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) in the credits. He performs an odd operation on Kris involving her and a small pig, the grafting of some of the pig’s flesh onto Kris’s body, and what looks like a blood transfusion between them. The Sampler also runs a pig farm, presumably stocked with pigs that have been used in similar operations. The Sampler gets his name because when he isn’t tending to his pig farm, he is wandering around the woods with a microphone and a synthesizer, recording all kinds of strange noises and sampling them to play back later.

After her bank account is drained, Kris gets away and tries to adjust to normal life again, but it’s hard to go back. She loses her job, and her personality becomes almost robotic. It is then that she meets Jeff (director Carruth) on a commuter train and they begin having conversations that eventually lead to a romantic relationship. And then she begins to realize that maybe Jeff has experienced a similar abduction in his past, because he has the same kind of knife marks on his leg that she does…

So what do Thoreau, pigs and the ingesting of strange worms have to do with each other? You’ll have to see UPSTREAM COLOR for yourself, and it may take some work to figure it out. UPSTREAM COLOR is the kind of movie that does not provide ready answers, but that’s okay. There are so many movies that try to explain every little detail of what’s going on, that it’s a relief sometimes to find a movie like this, that refuses to make it easy. I’m still not one hundred percent sure about every aspect of the movie, but I do know that I found the film to be very compelling, and I’m sure I’ll see it again at some point.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) undergoes a strange abduction in Shane Carruth's UPSTREAM COLOR.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) experiences a strange abduction in Shane Carruth’s UPSTREAM COLOR.

The direction by Carruth (who also wrote the script) is quite good, as is the cinematography (which, it turns out, is also by Carruth). It’s a visually interesting film, with minimal dialogue in its first half, and yet it might just captivate you from the moment it begins. Just go in expecting something completely different, and you won’t be disappointed. This is not like the typical Hollywood film. It’s another animal entirely.

And for that reason, because it plays by its own rules, I give UPSTREAM COLOR three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives UPSTREAM COLOR ~three and a half knives.

The Geisha of Gore’s TOP MOVIES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Art Movies, Asian Horror, Best Of Lists, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Gangsters!, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Martial Arts, Yakuza Films with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2013 by knifefighter

The Geisha of Gore’s Top Movies of 2012
By Colleen Wanglund

I don’t go to see new movies very often…in fact it’s rare.  Most of my theater-going experiences involve midnight screenings of older and classic films.  This past year, however, I did go to quite a few new movie screenings, mostly because of the New York Asian Film Festival this past summer.  Anyway, here are the movies I loved from 2012, in no particular order.

Vulgaria-Poster

VULGARIA (Hong Kong 2012) A truly laugh-out-loud comedy starring Chapman To about what one producer went through to get his porn film made, VULGARIA was an opening-night screening at Lincoln Center during the New York Asian Film Festival.  It included a Q&A with the film’s writer and director, Pang Ho-Cheung, who informed the sold-out crowd that the movie is based on true events.  I was very impressed with the fact that nothing was lost in the subtitled translation.

The_Raid_Redemption

THE RAID (Indonesia 2011) This film didn’t screen in the US until 2012 so it counts.  Written and directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, THE RAID stars Iko Uwais as Rama, an idealistic young cop who is along for a raid against a major drug lord’s stronghold—a whole apartment building full of (mostly) criminals.  The film is full of non-stop action, mostly of the martial arts variety.  It’s beautifully choreographed and there are a few nice surprises thrown into the story.

rabbithorror

TORMENTED (Japan 2011) Written and directed by Takashi Shimizu of JU-ON fame, TORMENTED (also known as RABBIT HORROR 3D) is a follow-up to his film THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (2009), but is not a true sequel.  The film tells the story of Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima) whose younger brother has been mysteriously transported to another world by a giant bunny, and how she tries to save him.  I know it sounds weird, but I found it quite entertaining.  I also understand now how a giant stuffed rabbit can actually be scary.  To me it’s worth the viewing just for Christopher Doyle’s cinematography. TORMENTED is another film that did not make its debut in the US until 2012.

Nameless Gangster 4

NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea 2012) This film stars the legendary (and one of my favorites) actor, Choi Min-sik, as a corrupt customs official who enters into the world of drug gangs almost by accident.  Written and directed by Yun Jong-bin, NAMELESS GANGSTER is an amazing gangster film that takes an unflinching look at corruption and nepotism in various levels of government and how they deal with the gangs that sell illegal drugs.  Choi is superb as a man who, regardless of the loyalty shown him, is only interested in personal gain and saving his own sorry ass.

444

4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (USA 2011) I’ve included this movie because I saw its theatrical debut in 2012—which included a Q&A with famed cult film writer and director Abel Ferrara and star Shanyn Leigh.  4:44 follows artist couple Skye (Leigh) and Cisco (Willem Dafoe) during the last day of life on Earth.  It is a quiet yet powerful apocalyptic film that did, in fact, terrify me.  I really loved the subtly that Ferrara uses to tell this story and the fact that it elicited such an emotional response from me.

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund